Will Ashon: Unpacking the endless mysteries of Enter the Wu-Tang
- Stewart Smith
- 18 February 2019
Ahead of his appearance at Aye Write!, we chat to Ashon about his new book, Chamber Music: About the Wu-Tang (In 36 Pieces)
A raw blast of bone-clacking funk, street lyricism and esoteric imagery, the Wu-Tang Clan's debut album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) remains as potent today as it did upon its release in 1993. The album's febrile complexity is captured brilliantly in Will Ashon's Chamber Music: About the Wu-Tang (In 36 Pieces). Eschewing conventional album biography, Ashon explores the Staten Island rap crew's mythos through 36 discursive chapters. These range from detailed analyses of lyrical styles and production techniques, to histories of kung-fu cinema and the 1980s crack epidemic.
A former music journalist and erstwhile boss of the Big Dada label, Ashon applies a hip hop aesthetic to his writing. 'I make no claims for myself as a massively original thinker, so what I'm doing to some extent is collaging other people's ideas in a way that hopefully makes them feel fresh or new. And I thought, this is a bit like hip hop: you're taking samples, you're quoting, you're fitting them together to create something different.'
In his previous book, Strange Labyrinth, Ashon reckons with the 'outlaws, poets, mystics, murderers' of Epping Forest. He finds intriguing parallels between the ancient English woodland and Staten Island, noting that they're both on the peripheries of cities. A visit to New York's fifth borough confounded his expectations. 'You listen to the Wu-Tang and you image a gothic landscape of huge derelict tower-blocks and it's not like that at all. What surprised me is how suburban it is. It did remind me of Essex in a way, because it's working class made good. It's quite right wing, and walking around it's festooned in Stars and Stripes. It's a really odd place.'